Modular training: Should I do my CPL or IR first?

Embracing the modular route in flight training unveils a realm of flexibility, allowing aspiring pilots to dictate not only when and where to train but also how to structure their flight training course. Among the critical decisions to be made is the sequencing of the Instrument Rating (IR) and the Commercial Pilot’s License (CPL) modules.

This comprehensive guide aims to unravel the intricacies of this decision-making process, equipping aspiring pilots with the insights necessary to make informed choices.

CPL vs. IR

To comprehend the decision at hand, it’s essential to establish a clear understanding of the fundamental concepts differentiating the CPL and IR courses.

The CPL, granting the privilege to fly for remuneration as a pilot, demands 25 hours of flight training, with up to five hours possibly completed in a Synthetic Flight Training Device (SFTD). The subsequent 2½-hour flight test, flown on a complex aircraft, marks the culmination of the CPL course. 

The IR, a prerequisite for nearly all commercial fixed-wing flying, can be pursued through a full 55-hour course or a competency-based alternative (CB-IR(A)), which recognises previous training and experience, potentially reducing training hours. The CB-IR grants the same privileges as an IR.

Options in the Training Journey

As the modular course unfolds, the standard trajectory involves initiating with Private Pilot License (PPL) flying and theory, progressing to Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) theory and hour building, and culminating in Multi-Crew Cooperation (MCC) or Airline Pilot Standards-Multi-Crew Cooperation (APS-MCC) courses. The pivotal focus here lies on the two critical modules mandatorily undertaken before advancing to the latter stages.

Benefits and Disadvantages of doing the CPL before IR

Cost implications and a logical progression from single to multi-engine flying serve as compelling arguments for undertaking the CPL first. However, in jurisdictions necessitating specific hour requirements for CPL skills testing, additional financial commitments may arise. A smooth transition from steam gauge instrument flying to glass cockpit flying also serves great benefit prior to undertaking an APS MCC course, on a multi-pilot aircraft which incorporates glass cockpit Electronic Flight Information Systems (EFIS).

Benefits and Disadvantages of doing the IR before CPL

Opting for the IR before the CPL might lead to overall cost reduction in jurisdictions where CPL prerequisites demand additional flight hours. However, the shift from multi-engine Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) to single-engine Visual Flight Rules (VFR) poses a logical challenge. Completing an IR course on a glass cockpit, and then completing a CPL course on steam gauge instruments also serves as a challenge before the APS MCC course, where your glass cockpit skills will be assessed.

Instrument Flying Focus

Given the predominant role of IFR in commercial aviation, contemplating a single-engine instrument rating early in training holds substantial value. Whether the CPL or IR takes precedence, this approach effectively bridges the gap between visual and instrument flying experiences.

Choosing the Right Route

The primary determinant in this decision-making process is the requisite hours before undertaking the CPL skills test. Leveraging the Competency-Based IR for aeroplanes (CB-IR(A)) training reduction by pursuing a Basic Instrument Rating (BIR) or IR(R) course post-PPL emerges as a strategic move. Not only does this approach yield cost savings, but it also enhances preparedness for subsequent phases in the training journey.

Choosing which course to start with can be influenced also by the time of year that your training starts. The CPL course requires suitable VFR weather conditions, so if you start your training during the spring or summer months, your rate of progression will increase.

Crafting the Path to Success

Ultimately, both sequencing options lead to the same coveted licence, with employers unlikely to scrutinise the chosen trajectory. However, the decision-making process can be daunting for aspiring pilots, often compounded by potentially biased advice from flight schools.

Seeking guidance from independent organisations such as the Wings Alliance, which offers free training planning assistance, can provide invaluable insights. Regardless of the chosen route, maintaining focus and unwavering commitment ensures a successful journey towards realising one’s aviation aspirations.